Pat Williams heard it before he saw it, the unique call of a cassowary.
The Ipima Ikaya Traditional Owner led researchers on a six-day trip into a remote section of Far North Cape York looking for signs of the elusive birds.
It had been four years since the last sighting of a cassowary in this part of Queensland, so there were no expectations that any would be seen while in the field and the sighting came as quite a surprise.
“I heard its sound, and we were all silent, then it was here,” Mr Williams said.
The cassowary had literally walked through the researcher’s camp.
Later, the group was lucky enough to spot it for a second time, this time it left prints in the mud.
Through their observations and measuring those prints, the team was able to identify it as a large female.
A special moment
The encounter happened on the first day of a six-day survey conducted by Ipima Ikaya Country Traditional Owners and facilitated by Cape York Natural Resource Management.
A distant shot of the bird was the only photograph the team managed to capture, but visual proof that the ‘wadthuuny’ as it is known to the Ipima Ikaya people, does exist in the area.
For Mr Williams, it was a special moment.
“Being out on Country and taking the young fellas out there, hearing the cassowary call, then seeing it walk into camp, that was really something,” he said.
The group set up camera traps across 14 locations, which will capture images over a two-month period.
“I can’t wait to see what we find on those cameras. I want them to be safe,” Williams said.
Williams and two other Ipima Ikaya Traditional Owners were trained how to set up operate the camera traps.
Visual lures are used to draw birds in front of the cameras and get them to stoop in front of the cameras long enough for images to be captured.
Consultant Wren Mclean said the cassowary’s entry into the camp was a significant moment.
“We were so elated, we couldn’t believe it,” she said.
“I felt like, really, it walked in to greet the Traditional Owners.”
The team found other signs of the species in the area, including cassowary scats.
The large birds are listed as a ‘vulnerable’ species and the last known sighting of a cassowary in this particular part of Cape York was in October, 2018, but camera traps set up following that sighting didn’t produce many clear images.
The Ipima Ikaya Traditional Owners will play an ongoing role in the cassowary monitoring activities in the area.